Sri Lankan food might seem simple, but it is toothsome, wholesome and gratifying. The rich tropical climate means the country grows some of the finest agricultural produce, and its long coastline grants it access to some of the freshest seafood. Local spices add flavor, and coconut grown throughout the island, is used extensively. Seasonal vegetables, luscious fruits, flavorful curries, aromatic rice, creamy yogurt and abundant seafood… The list of things you can enjoy in Sri Lanka is never-ending.
While traveling to the island nation may not be possible just yet, its food is easy enough to be recreated at home. You can also order in or visit your closest Sri Lankan restaurants and support them in these hard times.
Here are some of Sri Lanka’s most popular delicacies, ones that define this simple yet delectable cuisine – and a simple recipe to try at home.
No morning in Sri Lanka starts without a steady supply of steaming hot hoppers or appas. Eaten with rich curry or simple sambol and coconut milk, they come in many shapes and sizes. String hoppers, made with red rice flour and steamed in large bamboo steamers, are light and fragrant and can be eaten by the dozen. Egg hoppers, large semicircular dishes of fermented rice flour, cooked with an egg in the center are wholesome, slightly sweet and very gratifying. And plain hoppers, with their lacy golden edges and a soft pillowy center, melt in your mouth almost instantly.
Sri Lankan curries are as rich and as diverse as its produce. The most basic ones are made with tomato, onions, green chili and vegetables; the most complicated can include complex spice mixes, fish, meat or chicken and coconut cream. Eaten with both hoppers and rice, at breakfast and in main meals, curries are the most flavor rich element of Sri Lankan cuisine. Malu ambul thiyal, a sour fish curry; polos, the green jackfruit curry; kukul mas, the chicken curry; and muttai kulambu, the egg curry, are most commonly seen on menus. Then there are the more complicated seafood and fish curries, which leave an everlasting flavor in the mouth.
Rice and Parottas
There is no joy in curries if there is no kiribath or kottu roti to go with them. In Sri Lanka, the staples come in many forms of rice and rotis. There is the glorious kiribath, a rice dish made with coconut milk that is fragrant and mildly sweet, best eaten with some sambol. Lamprais, a preparation short-grained rice, packed and steamed in a banana leaf along with vegetables, curry, meat, and sambol, is said to be the gift of the Dutch colonizers to the island nation. And plain rice, grown abundantly throughout, is as ancient as it is important to the common man.
Ceylon parotta and kottu parotta, flaky deep fried breads made with refined flour, meanwhile, are very similar to those found in parts of south India. While Ceylon parotta is a glorious shallow fried accompaniment to fried beef curries, kottu parotta is a complete dish on its own. A chopped up roti, fried with eggs, curry, meat, and even cheese, kottu parotta is a popular snack all over the island and is best enjoyed at street side joints.
A dry relish made with a combination of coconut, spices, chilies, onions, tomatoes, and sometimes even small cured fish, sambol is the mainstay of Sri Lankan cuisine. While you can buy it in bottles from supermarkets, the best sambol is made at home. Lunu miris – a sambol of onions, chilies, lemon juice and salt is the most basic. Pol sambol, a blend of coconut, red onions, dried chilies, lime and fish is the most loved. Katta sambol meanwhile is the spiciest. Made with red chili paste, ground onion, and lemon juice, its potency makes it a hit with milder dishes like kiribath and appas.
Kiribath and Egg Curry
- 2 onions, sliced lengthwise
- 2 tomatoes, cut in large chunks
- 2 green chilies, slit lengthwise
- ½ tsp turmeric
- ½ tsp red chili powder
- ½ tsp curry powder (optional)
- Salt to taste
- ½ tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 4 boiled eggs, peeled and halved
- Heat the oil in a flat pan. When the oil smoking, add the sliced onions and stir.
- Add green chilies and tomatoes and stir again.
- Add the turmeric, salt, curry powder and chili powder. Cook until the tomatoes soften and then add the boiled eggs.
- Stir gently and cover for five minutes. When done, add the coconut milk, stir gently and let it simmer for another five minutes. Cover and let it sit until ready to serve.
- 1 cup short-grain rice
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup coconut milk
- ½ tsp salt
- Wash the rice and place in a large saucepan with the water and salt. Boil uncovered over medium heat.
- Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until water is absorbed and rice is tender (about 20 to 25 minutes).
- Add the coconut milk and stir well until everything is mixed. Simmer on low heat until the rice absorbs all the coconut milk (about 15 minutes).
- Remove from fire and let cool for 5 minutes.
- Transfer the mixture to a large shallow dish and flatten with the back of a flat spoon. Draw lines on the top surface in squares. Let cool and solidify for about 10 minutes before cutting into pieces.
- Serve with the egg curry.